To say that getting from Zip’s new bedroom to Lara’s in a hurry was easy would be an outright lie. He had to walk down the corridor from his room to the main hall, then up a flight of stairs, then down another corridor until he reached her bedroom door. This door was, inevitably, always locked, which wasn’t usually a problem—during the day.
Furthermore, to say that Lara’s screams were incapable of reaching the opposite side of the Manor at three in the morning would be almost laughable. Almost. Actually, it would have been downright hilarious if Zip wasn’t currently jogging up the tall flight of stairs in nothing but sweatpants and socks, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. His injured leg sent shockwaves of pain up his body with every step he took. His employer’s shrieks had ceased by the time he finally reached her door, which was either a good sign or an extremely bad one.
“Lara!” He banged on the bedroom door. “Open up!”
A moment later the door opened, but to Zip’s surprise it was Winston who held it. “Good evening,” the butler greeted him.
“Winston? How did you get in here so fast?” Zip looked around inside the room. “Huh.”
“Why is Zip here?” Lara asked irritably. Her covers were thrown halfway off the bed, and the countess herself was sitting up with her legs resting on a messy pile of gold-coloured silk sheets. She was wearing her usual sleep attire—black workout pants and a green tank top. Her ponytail was decidedly mussed up from sleep or thrashing about, and her face looked as if she’d possibly been crying.
Winston shut the door and returned to her side. “I assume he was woken by your nightmare as wel. His room isn’t far from mine.”
“Bad dreams?” Zip asked sympathetically. “I’ve been having nightmares too since the explosion. Mostly about getting shot or seeing Alister laying dead on your front lawn. You dream about that sort of stuff?”
“It’s being here again,” Lara complained. “It’s been so long since I lived here that I keep remembering my Aunt Sophie’s Corgi. Even in my dreams, apparently.”
“Corgi?” Zip scratched his head. “You wanna fill me in?”
“My Aunt Sophie lived here before she died and left the place to me. Her pet Corgi used to bite me right over there.” She nodded in the direction of the chaise to her right. “I’m terrified of little Corgi dogs to this day.”
Zip had to really fight his laughter. “Seriously? You’re not just pulling my leg?”
Winston cleared his throat. “Lara’s phobia is quite real, but it is not public knowledge. I’m sure she would like to keep it that way.”
Lara waved him away. “Zip signed a confidentiality agreement before he started working for me, Winston. He knows that if he tells anyone anything about me, I’ll slit his throat in his sleep.”
“It’s true,” Zip assured him, knowing Lara was only half joking. “I like living. But Corgis? We are talking about the cute, chubby little dogs, right? You’ll go up against T-rexes and zombies and crazy ex-girlfriends, but you have nightmares about little Corgi dogs?”
“Natla is not my ex-girlfriend. And if you’re done mocking me, you can make my bed back up.” Lara somersaulted off the bed and landed perfectly on her feet. “Winston, could I have some chamomile tea, please? I’m going to have a bath.”
“I didn’t mean Natla!” Zip shouted after her as she shut the door to her powder room. If she heard him, she didn’t bother dignifying him with a response.
“Would you like some tea as well?” Winston asked him politely, helping him return the bed to its usually tidy state.
“No thanks, man. I just want some more painkillers and some sleep. I’m worn out from the move.” The tech assistant hobbled back down the stairs with Winston, and the two parted ways in the main hall. As Winston shuffled off to the kitchen, Zip turned and instead went to his bedroom. After taking another prescription pain tablet and changing the bandages covering the bullet wound on his leg, he collapsed into his bed and immediately started to doze.
He was right in the middle of a funky dream about dragons and space aliens battling each other when something woke him up again. As his eyes opened, he realized it was Lara screaming again. Muttering some serious swear words under his breath, he rolled out of bed onto his good leg and limped into the hall. The painkillers were making his head all fuzzy, but if Lara needed him, he wasn’t just going to sleep and let her be afraid all by herself. Every girl needed a knight in shining armour at some point, he figured. Once he reached the top of the stairs, her cries stopped again, but he’d come way too far not to at least check on her.
Zip knocked, and yet again Winston let him in. “How do you do that?” he asked, amazed. “You’re like The Flash and Houdini rolled into an old guy disguise. Are you camping out in there?”
Winston didn’t seem to hear him. “Are you feeling better now?” he asked Lara, leaving Zip to close the door.
“Quite.” She rose and fixed her ponytail, then grabbed a tissue from her nightstand and dabbed at her face. “It was the explosion I dreamt about this time,” she said to Zip. “Thank you for planting that idea in my head, by the by.”
Unable to ascertain whether she was being serious or not, he paused for a minute before answering. “You’re welcome?” he said at last, then yawned. “What time is it, anyways?”
“Quarter past four,” Winston replied, checking his pocket watch. “If I’m not needed for anything else, I’ll get some sleep.”
Lara shooed both of them out of her room as she climbed back under her covers. Winston closed and locked her door, and a moment later he and Zip were descending the stairs again.
Zip crawled under his navy blue comforter and snuggled it around his neck, hoping Lara was done having crazy dreams. His bed felt so darned comfortable; it was practically a crime to drag someone out of it even once during the night. He rolled onto his stomach and started to doze.
Knock knock knock.
His dream about receiving an award for his cooking vaporized as he reluctantly opened his eyes in the dark.
With a groan, he tossed the covers aside and limped over to the door. “Yeah? What is it?’
Lara was standing there, wearing her holsters over her pyjama bottoms and holding a torch in one hand. “There’s an intruder in the house,” she said grimly. I intend to catch them.”
“But wouldn’t the alarms go off?” Zip pointed out.
“Not if they’re very, very clever. Or if the alarm system isn’t fully functional yet. We did just move.”
“What makes you think there’s an intruder? Did you see someone? Hear someone?”
“I had a dream about someone breaking in,” she admitted. “But when I got up to refill my Nalgene bottle from the filtered tap downstairs, I heard a noise. My subconscious must have been trying to warn me of the intruder.”
Zip rubbed the back of his aching neck impatiently. “Lara, your subconscious is trying to tell you that last week an intruder broke into your old house, blew the place up, shot and killed your close friend, and kicked your butt. It’s not rocket science.”
Her eyes fell on the stack of boxes in his room, which he’d been too exhausted to unpack before he’d fallen asleep the night before. “What are you implying?” she demanded.
“I’m just saying, you’ve been through a lot lately—we all have, but you more than any of us—what with the explosion and shooting your mom and seeing Amanda again.” He shifted his weight onto his bad leg and immediately regretted it. “Look, you’re a tough lady. I’m not gonna lie. But even someone as badass as you might think they hear something they didn’t if they go through enough stress in a short period of time.”
“I am not going mad!” Lara scowled at him. “I know I heard something.”
“Then get in my bed with me and we’ll protect each other,” he said in exasperation. “I’m exhausted and my leg hurts and I need some sleep to heal up my leg.”
She stood there for a moment, clearly thinking hard. “Alright,” she said at last. “I’m in no mood to guess, though I have half a mind to threaten your job. Should I try the insane bonus approach, or the damsel-in-distress approach?”
“You’re gonna need both, Twinkle Toes,” Zip said, still cross over the throbbing pain in his leg. “And don’t threaten me with the firing, either. I’ll save you the trouble and quit, at least until noon tomorrow.”
“Fine.” She sighed. “Oh no, someone has broken into my home, and I need a big, strong man to help me look.”
Zip felt his bad mood dissipating a little, even though she was openly manipulating him. “Yeah? You really need me?”
She rolled her eyes, but then nodded. “Oh yes. Desperately. I’ll even give you a five thousand pound bonus to help me look.”
“Okay, I’m in,” he grabbed his gun, but didn’t even bother looking for a torch. He knew his was on the very bottom of a large stack of heavy boxes. “Where do you want to start?”
“Let’s wake Winston,” she said, turning around. “Then we can split up and explore the whole house.”
He reluctantly followed her to the butler’s room, which was on the other side of great hall. She knocked lightly on the door, and a moment later he opened it, looking decidedly disgruntled.
“There’s an intruder in the house,” Lara announced. “I need your help to catch them.”
Winston muttered something and trudged back into his room, but a moment later he returned, wearing a military helmet that must have been at least sixty years old. “Let’s get on with it,” he said, slinging his ancient rifle over his shoulder.
“I’ll check the treasure room. Winston, take the upstairs. Zip, you take the rest of the downstairs.”
They separated, and Zip readied his gun even though he didn’t think there was an intruder. He’d never admit it to her, but he did feel kinda safe with her around.
“Anybody here?” he asked loudly, flipping on the lights. No one answered. “Maybe this place is haunted,” he mused out loud. “Maybe Lara heard a ghost.” Flipping off the lights, he called, “any ghosts up in here?”
This was stupid. It was an old house. Old houses creaked, right? That combined with Lara’s exhaustion and her stressed out brain probably made her think someone had broken in.
A thorough investigation of the kitchen, aquarium, and dining hall revealed nothing. After Zip was convinced of Lara’s insanity, he sat on the stairs and waited for the others to meet up with him. Winston joined him first, coming slowly down the stairs until he reached Zip and sitting down beside him. Lara finally emerged from the treasure room, looking suspicious. “Anything?” she asked.
“No. Can we go back to bed now?”
She looked like she might give in, but just then the alarm sirens began wailing. Zip and Winston scrambled to their feet, looking about for the source, but clearly whatever had set off the alarm was nowhere near them.
“Patrol this area,” she said, shutting off the alarm from a panel on the wall. “I’m going to explore some secret passages, then scan the outdoor areas, just in case. Keep a close eye on the treasure room.”
She darted off upstairs, leaving the two men standing there in surprise.
“Listen, you fancy Lara, right?” Winston asked Zip. His helmet slipped into his eyes, and he pushed it back.
“Uh, does fancy mean ‘have a crush on’?” Zip played with his dreads in embarrassment.
“Oh, do stop pretending,” Winston snapped, his tiredness causing him to lose his usual pleasant demeanor. “I know you fancy her.”
“Well, yeah, but who doesn’t?”
“Me, for one. It’s rather hard to fancy someone you practically raised. At any rate, I would very much like to go back to bed. Surely the treasure vault only needs one guardian. Why don’t you stay up and stand guard over Lara and her relics? At best, you’ll catch an intruder and be Lara’s hero, and at worst you will have been her sole protector all night long.”
Zip kind of liked the sound of that. “Yeah, okay,” he finally agreed. “Sleep tight.”
The butler left, and Zip found himself alone again in the great hall. He paced a little, but then his leg started hurting. So he sat down and hummed a couple of songs, until a noise caught his attention. Clumsily staggering to his feet, he aimed his gun in the direction and tiptoed towards it. Maybe he’d just imagined it? He had been humming when he heard it, after all.
There—he’d definitely heard something this time. It was coming from the dining hall. It was a seriously strange noise, like a terrifying high pitch growl crossed with some sort of dreadful chewing, gnawing, slurping sound. Whatever this was, it didn’t sound human. Zip’s heart began beating furiously, and for a second he contemplated turning around and getting the hell out of there until Lara was there to handle it. Then he remembered what Winston said about being her protector, and the thought of her swooning into his arms for saving her gave him enough courage to do what had to be done.
“Aha!!!” he yelled, flipping on the lights with one hand and training his pistol on the direction of the sound with the other. “Gotcha!!!”
Nothing in the world could have prepared him for the sight before him. His pistol clattered to the floor, luckily not discharging, and he nearly passed out from shock.
There, on the carpet in front of him, was a tiny Welsh Corgi pup chewing on a string of sausages. It looked up at him and ‘arfed’ in surprise, wagging its miniscule tail so hard he thought it might wag right off. Carrying the sausages in its mouth, it stood up and dragged them along behind it as it went to greet its new friend.
“Aww, you’re such a cute little guy!” Zip, overcome by the unbearable cuteness, picked the dog up, sausages and all. “Who’s a cute little sausage ninja? Yeah, that’s right! You are!” He tickled it with two fingers under its chin, cradled against his bare, muscular black chest. “Little sausage thief. What’s a tiny little baby like you doing so far from your home?” He nuzzled his nose against the dog’s, and the latter licked his mustache. He laughed and pet it some more. “Man, you’re cute. I wonder how you got in?”
“Don’t move.” Lara’s tense voice startled him. He looked up in surprise and found her lurking by the doorway, as if afraid to come any closer. Both of her pistols were trained on the pup. “I don’t want to shoot your hand.”
“Put the guns away. I’ll take him to a shelter.” Zip wrapped his arms around the dog protectively. “He didn’t hurt anything.”
“He’s in my home! He set off my alarms! He ate my sausages and cost us all a good night of sleep!
“Are you shaking?” He tilted his head to get a better look. Her hands were indeed shaking, and she looked quite pale. “Hey, chill. I’ve got a good grip on him. He’s not gonna get you, I promise.”
“Just let me shoot the bloody thing!” Lara yelled, taking a step closer.
“No! I’m not gonna let you kill a defenceless little puppy!” Zip turned so she would have to shoot through him to hit the dog. “Back up! I’ve got a gun too, you know!”
She scoffed. “You wouldn’t dare shoot me!”
“Yeah? Maybe I would! See how you like walking around all night on a shot leg! Back up!”
“Don’t you dare give me orders, especially in my own home!”
“Why are we having a shouting match?” Winston demanded. Zip turned his head and found him standing in the doorway behind Lara, looking completely pissed off. “Have you two got any idea what time it is?”
“Make Zip give me that… that thing so I can kill it.” Lara folded her arms.
“What’ve you got there?” Winston asked, coming up behind Zip and peering around him. “Oh! Heavens!” The puppy stretched its head out and licked his hand, and Winston laughed. “Goodness, you’re much too cute for Lara to shoot. Can’t Zip take it to a shelter?”
“That’s what I wanted to do in the first place!” Zip shot Lara an “I told you so!” look. She returned it with an icy glare. “Look, just, pretend you never saw this dog and go back to bed or something. I’ll take it far, far away from here so you never have to look at it or even think about it ever again. Okay?”
For a minute he didn’t think she was going to do it. Then she dropped her arms by her side and stormed out of the room.
“Well, that certainly went better than I anticipated,” Winston said, looking relieved. He scratched the pup behind its ears. “You’d best get it out of here before she comes back.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Zip agreed, but made no move to leave. Instead, he and Winston stood there for several minutes, petting and cooing at the puppy. At long last, they managed to tear themselves away from it, and Zip took it to his room.
“We gotta find you a good family,” he announced, pulling a jacket on. “Don’t worry, little buddy, I’m not gonna drop you off at the pound.”
Two chilly hours on a park bench later, Zip watched “Zoe” trot off next to her wealthy owner on a lead. Apparently the sausage ninja had been a ‘she’ all along. Zip waved at her waggy little tail until he couldn’t see it anymore, then shoved his hands into his pockets and hobbled back towards the car. At least he—she—had a good home with a family that loved dogs, and Zip could get some sleep now. He stifled a yawn and began the painstaking journey back to the house. Truthfully, it was only painstaking because he kept wanting to fall asleep on the road, but that didn’t make it any more enjoyable.
By the time Zip got back to the Manor, Lara was just finishing up her morning workout on the treadmill in the ballroom. “I’m nearly ready for breakfast!” she called over her music. Well, at least she wasn’t freaking out over the dog anymore. “Three Belgian waffles with whipped cream and strawberries on top, please. Oh, and a Spanish omelet with extra everything. And maybe some fresh fruit, if we have any. I’m positively famished after this run.”
Zip sighed. There were definitely downsides to being a world class chef, to say nothing of being the technical assistant to a beautiful, interesting, and perhaps slightly insane British aristocrat.
“On my way,” he replied wearily, heading to the kitchen. “But I might need a kiss to wake me up.”
She laughed, seeming completely oblivious to the sweat that glistened on her face and soaked her clothing through (and only endeared her to Zip more, if he was honest). “Winston’s asleep; it’s the perfect time to steal one from him.”
“He’s too light a sleeper.” Zip yawned. “Are you sure you need three waffles, Lara? You always ask for at least two, but then you’re lucky to even get halfway through the first one. I’m seriously wiped out right now.”
She gave him a devilish look and opened her mouth as if to make a teasing reply, then closed it and hit a button on the treadmill. As it slowed to a walk, she took a swig of water, then gave him a kind smile. “You know, I think I can do with just one waffle this morning. Thank you, Zip. I appreciate your helping me so much this morning. I couldn’t have handled that dreadful situation on my own. You’ve more than earned your bonus.”
He returned her smile and limped past her on his way to the kitchen. It was rare moments like that that kept him from quitting his job. Well, that and the pay, the witty banter, the free lodging, and the way Lara was always wearing tight clothes and doing stretches in the great hall. Yeah. Right then, Zip couldn’t imagine a better job. He grinned a crazy huge grin despite his pain and exhaustion and started pulling ingredients out of the fridge. They were off to a weird start in this new house, but Lara not shooting a puppy had to be a good omen. Probably.
NOTICE: This story is a work of fiction. Lara Croft, her likeness, and the Tomb Raider games are all copyright of EIDOS Interactive. There is no challenge to these copyrights intended by this story, as it is a
non-sanctioned, unofficial work of the author's own.